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What will Elon Musk do with Twitter? Here is a 6-point guide

This story is syndicated from Alex Kantrowitz’s Big Technology newsletter; subscribe for free here.

Aside from a messy last-minute divorce, Elon Musk is on his way to owning Twitter (and yes, mea culpa). The mercurial, ingenious entrepreneur relieved about $ 8.5 billion of Tesla shares this week as he prepares to pay for his $ 44 billion side project. And soon he will be free to change the service as he pleases.

Musk has not yet presented a comprehensive plan for Twitter – he may never want to – but he has suggested several significant changes that are worth evaluating. Musk’s ideas include extending character boundaries, the open source algorithm, and effectively putting an end to content moderation. A debate rages about the latter, but everyone has trade-offs.

Alex Roetter, Twitter’s former chief engineer, joined Great technology podcast this week to discuss Musk’s proposals and examine both their feasibility and advisability. Here is a look at the most significant potential changes along with his comment:

Authentication of all people

When Musk announced the deal, he said he wanted to “authenticate all people.” Twitter has long weighed this idea internally and wondered if getting people to verify their email or phone number could help reduce harassment and spam. The company never acted, perhaps because authentication could drop its user numbers and annoy Wall Street. But it should have. Pure anonymity, Roetter said, “fosters the worst parts of online speech.” So he loves Musk’s approval idea. As a private company, Twitter could afford to take a username hit, a benefit of Musk’s ownership. This idea is feasible and advisable.

Defeat spambots

Musk hates spambots. “We will defeat spambots or die by trying!” he said last week. Roetter likes this idea, but it’s not that simple. To defeat the spambots, he said, you would build a classification that looks for properties of bots and then bans them. You would then set the rating to either be really aggressive where you would eliminate bots but also ban a lot of human “false positives”, or be less aggressive where you would let some bots slip and ban fewer people. “I think you should do it,” Roetter said. “But everyone should be prepared, there is no perfect spambot classification.” This idea is feasible, but not perfect, and advisable.

Freedom of expression

Allowing freedom of speech is at the heart of Musk’s Twitter takeover. “Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital city space,” he said. There may be technical challenges to Musk’s vision, including how that victory over spambots could also capture human speech, Roetter said. “I really do not think there is an answer that will make everyone happy,” he said. Still, Musk could relax the current moderation rules and see how things unfold. This feature is somewhat feasible and its advisability is TBD.

Paid Twitter subscriptions

Musk is interested in Twitter’s subscription product and could expand it. Getting people to pay for Twitter – or certain premium features – can help reduce spam and generate revenue streams if Twitter advertisers appreciate their new voice rules. “It’s a really interesting idea,” Roetter said. “If you do not want a lot of what you think of as a low-value activity to happen, if you charge more than the value that you think people extract from it, it should disappear.” Subscription fees can be normalized and scaled per. location. This idea is feasible and advisable if implemented properly.

To make the algorithms open source

To build trust in Twitter, Musk wants to open up its algorithms. “This one is a head scraper for me,” Roetter said. The algorithms themselves, he said, will not tell you very much. To figure out what to show you, Twitter’s ranking algorithms mainly look at billions of examples of content, try to predict how you’ll respond to tweets and ads, and then use those results to optimize what’s to show you . “It does not say if you are a Republican, then you are banned,” Roetter said. “There’s just nothing like it.” Open sourcing of the algorithms is feasible and perhaps advisable, but only to remove the conspiracy theories.

Longer, editable tweets

Musk has considered adding an edit button and allowing longer tweets. Both ideas are technically straightforward, though they are likely to do little for ordinary users who can already thread tweets together and delete and resend tweets with spelling mistakes. “I do not think it’s going to change any of the key things that everyone is sad about,” Roetter said. “But yes, of course, why not?” These ideas are feasible and it’s up to you Elon.

What will Elon Musk do with Twitter?  Here is a 6-point guide

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